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Festivals in Nepal are occasions to express religious devotion and reaffirm social ties. They bring color and magic to daily life and are eagerly awaited events. Almost all the festivals happen according to the lunar calendar, and the dates given below are valid for this year only.

Guru Purnima (July 16)

Teachers come second (after the gods) in the Hindu hierarchy of respect. The full moon day of July is thus allotted for special treatment to one’s tutors. Students pay homage to their teachers and receive blessings from them in return. At a place called Vyas on the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway, special worship is performed to Maharishi Vyas, the saint who created the great Hindu epic, Mahabharat.

For Buddhists, the occasion (known as Dilla Punhi) is sacred as the day when the Buddha-to-be entered the womb of Queen Mayadevi, thereby setting in motion the religious cycle of Buddhism. Religious functions are held in Buddhist monasteries and temples to commemorate the event.


gathamuga_104.jpg (14297 bytes)Gathan-muga (July 29)

The Gathan-muga festival (known variously as Gathemangal and Ghantakarna) represents a ritual detoxification of the city, when evil spirits are banished outside the urban limits. In the Kathmandu Valley, effigies of the Gathan-muga demon are erected at street intersections. A man wearing war-paint all over his body goes about begging for money. At the end of the day, the effigy is taken down. The painted man is made to sit on it and the neighborhood kids drag it away to the river. In Bhaktapur, the effigy is burnt in the street.

Householders also place pots of cooked rice at the crossroads as food for the demons. Before locking up the house for the night, nails are hammered into the door lintels because the spooks are supposed to be terrified of iron.


Gunla (August 1-30)

This month-long festival commemorates the "rains retreat" when the Buddha, over 2,500 years ago, led his disciples into solitary meditation and preached to them the Dharma. Buddhists spend the month in prayer and fasting. In the Kathmandu Valley, the faithful visit Swayambhu and other shrines early in the morning accompanied by musical bands.

On August 11, groups of devotees make the rounds of monastery courtyards to view Buddha images displayed for the occasion. On August 27, rice is distributed to Buddhist priests in a ceremony known as Panjadan. The Gunla lakhe (masked dancer) enlivens the festival with his street performances. Gunla is the name of the 10th month in the Nepal Era calendar.


Nag Panchami (August 4)

In Hinduism, the Nag (divine serpent) is glorified as the giver of rain. On the day of Nag Panchami, devotees paste pictures of the Nag over their doorways and pay homage.

Pilgrims also throng Taudaha (meaning big pond) 6 km to the south-west of Kathmandu. There they worship Karkotak Nag, the serpent-king. Karkotak moved to this dwelling after Lord Manjushree drained the Kathmandu Valley, which used to be a lake in ages past, by slicing a passage through the hills to make it inhabitable. Nagdaha lake in the south of the Valley is another destination for pilgrims where they offer worship to the serpent-gods.


Janai Purnima (August 15)

Janai Purnima is the day when Hindus change the janai, the sacred thread the men wear on their chests. This full moon day sees flocks of Brahmins (Hindu priests) at the holy river banks. They take ritual dips in the water and offer ablution to the gods. They then change their holy threads and tie yellow sacred threads around the wrists of the faithful. Jhankris (village faith healers) also perform ceremonial dances.

To the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, it is the festival of Gunhi Punhi. Kwati, a soup of nine different beans, is the special menu of the day. In Patan, a richly decorated lingam, the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva, is placed in the middle of the Kumbheswar (Kwanti) pond. The pond is said to be filled with water from the holy Gosaikund lake. In Bhaktapur, a colorful procession known as Jujuya Ghintang-gishi (king’s carnival) goes around town in the evening.


Tansen Jatra (August 15-23)

The hilltop town of Tansen in south central Nepal exults in a week-long festive spree beginning with Janai Purnima, when Hindus change their sacred threads. The next day, Gai Jatra is marked by parading figures of cows made of bamboo and cloth. Ropai Jatra is the rice planting ceremony and participants perform plowing and planting acts on the streets. During Bagh Jatra, actors dressed up like tigers and hunters march through town. Then there are the processions of deities. Revelers place images of Ganesh, Bhimsen and Narayan on decorated palanquins and carry them around Tansen. The celebrations climax on August 23 with Bhagawati Jatra, the procession of the town’s protective goddess.


Gai Jatra (Saparu) (August 16)

On the day of Gai Jatra or Saparu, families who have lost a member during the past year parade a decorated cow around the city. Others dress up kids as cows or ascetics and walk in procession. The sacred animal helps departed souls in their journey into the after-world. In Kathmandu, the bereaved families proceed along the festival route individually. In Patan, the participants gather at Durbar Square and then move out together. In Bktapur, tall bamboo poles topped with horns fashioned of straw are carried arouhand the city in memory of the dead.

In another part of the festival, comic dramas and street shows making fun of government officials are performed. People also roam the city dressed up in weird costumes. Newspapers bring out special "mad" editions.


Mata-ya (August 17)

Mata-ya is one of Patan’s popular festivals. It consists of a day-long procession of devotees going around the Buddhist courtyards of the town and offering worship at the shrines there. Carrying lighted tapers and joss sticks in their hands, Mata-ya participants rush in a meandering file and visit the hundreds of Buddhist sites scattered all over Patan. They toss rice grains, flowers and coins at the shrines as they pass by.

Some devotees wear elaborate and amusing costumes that are specially prepared for the festival. Traditional musical bands also take part in the parade.


Krishnastami (August 22)

Lord Krishna, the dark god who taught warrior Arjuna the value of Karma in the Bhagwad Gita, was born at midnight on the eighth day of the dark moon of August.

To celebrate the birthday of this much-loved Hindu god, devotees flock to the Krishna Mandir at Patan Durbar Square on the preceding day. There, men and women from far away gather around the 17th-century temple and sit in vigil waiting for the midnight hour. Euphoric prayers and incantations fill the air, and small oil lamps are lit as a mark of felicitation and devotion to the deity. Images of Lord Krishna are also carried around the city in a procession accompanied by joyous crowds of followers and musical bands.


Gaura (August 23)

The Gaura festival is one of the important Hindu festivals celebrated in far west Nepal. It is observed by married women, and the ceremonies are spread out over several days. During the festival, the women worship various deities and make ritual offerings to them. Devotees pay homage to Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati and seek their blessings.


Gokarna Aunsi (August 29)

Gokarna Aunsi is father’s day. Sons and daughters offer ritual food, sweetmeats and other gifts to their fathers. The streets are a happy scene of married daughters with loads of goodies making their way to their parents’ houses. After offering the gifts, they adore their fathers by bowing to touch their feet with their foreheads. The ceremony is also known as "looking upon father’s face". Those whose fathers are no more mark the day by visiting Gokarna and other sacred spots and worshipping the deities. There they perform anniversary rituals in honor of their departed fathers and offer alms of rice, pulses and coins to the priests.


Teej (August 31-September 2)

Dancing, folk songs and the red color of women’s wedding saris dominate the days of Teej, a Hindu festival of womanhood. The days recall the heavenly occasion when Parvati, daughter of the Himalaya, won the hand of Lord Shiva after severe meditation and fasting.

On the first day, mothers send gifts of food and saris to their daughters’ houses, and groups of women gather together to feast. At midnight, the women begin a fast in emulation of Parvati. The second day is for worship. In the early morning of the third day (Rishi Panchami), women in red descend on the Pashupatinath temple to pray to Lord Shiva. The married ones ask for a happy and productive marriage and a long life for their husbands, and those yet to tie the nuptial knot pray for a good husband.


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